Have you ever found yourself in this situation: you’re going about your business as usual when suddenly you find yourself in the presence of greatness? Suddenly, out of nowhere, you find yourself rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, a celebrity or music artist? Unless you’re privileged to have an all-access or backstage pass, most of the time we do find ourselves interacting with the celebrity crowd. If we are lucky to do so, I’m sure those times are few and far between. As we look at our Gospel account of the Transfiguration, we see briefly of what it is like to have that all-access pass, in this case, to the fullness of God’s glory as seen in Jesus Christ.
I’m sure the day started out as just any other day for Peter, James, and John. I imagine they got up, put on their tunic and sandals, had some breakfast and then followed Jesus as they had every day for the last three years. I would venture to guess that if you were to ask Peter, James, or John if today was going to be any different than the day before or the day after, the answer would most likely be no.
As Jesus takes these three men up on top of the mountain, ideally to pray as Jesus often did with His disciples, the tone changed. In fact, everything about the day had changed. Matthew records for us, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Up until this point, Jesus hid His full godliness from the people, the disciples included. He looked like a man, for He was man. The people followed Jesus and believed in His teaching, including believing that He was the Son of God even though He didn’t look like what the Son of God would look like. Now suddenly, Jesus was transfigured before them. But what did that mean?
When our English language translates the Greek word as “transfigured,” do we understand what that means? The Greek word there is “metamorpho,” where we get the word “metamorphosis.” We understand that word as meaning to change form, a word often used to denote the change from say a caterpillar to butterfly, for instance. That same thinking and reasoning is seen here with Jesus.
Christ’s appearance was changed and was resplendent with divine brightness on the Mount of Transfiguration. Christ was changed in that the disciples with Him no longer saw Jesus as just a man – now they saw the fullness of God’s glory revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. This was God removing the veil that covered the divine nature of Jesus. Peter, James, and John were able to witness for themselves the fullness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
We see a marked difference at what happens on the Mount of Transfiguration and the time of Moses. In Moses’ day, he was told by God, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” At the time of Jesus, things are changed a bit. Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me…. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
You want to know who God is? The fullness of God is now seen through Jesus at His Transfiguration. Jesus had told His disciples repeatedly that He was God, and He had demonstrated that fact through the performance of miracles. Yet, here He is making a very visible statement about His divinity. There, Peter, James and John stood before Christ in all of His divine glory. If the Three had any doubts before of who Jesus was, this was all the convincing they needed. But it didn’t stop there. Before their eyes stood Moses and Elijah: Moses, the man of God through whom the Law was delivered on stone tablets. And with him was Elijah, representing the prophets who foretold of the coming Savior, and who endured the worst of times among God’s people. And finally, to top it off, they were overshadowed in a cloud and heard the voice of God. Jesus’ disciples were not dreaming. They actually saw two individuals who had died centuries before this time. How Peter, James, and John were able to correctly identify these two people as Moses and Elijah we are not told. But these disciples were experiencing a little glimpse of heaven. Their lives were changing right before their eyes.
With everything going on here, with a transfigured and veil-ripped away Jesus, with Old Testament icons such as Moses and Elijah, who would ever want this to end? Peter obviously didn’t want it to end; hence why he says to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” When you have all of Scripture present here, how can you not want this moment to end! To see the full glory of God, that alone was worth going up on the mountain with Jesus. And then you add great historical figures of the faith with men like Moses and Elijah, it truly is heaven on earth! And with all of that, the day isn’t over yet!
It seems like it’s been forever since we heard the Father’s voice. The last we heard from Him was at Jesus’ Baptism. Now, God the Father makes a reappearance and echoes the same sentiment at Jesus’s Baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The lives for the disciples would be forever changed with the words Jesus would speak. Those words would indeed be life-changing words, for they will declare that their sins would be forgiven by His death upon the cross.
We need the Jesus who came to the disciples and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” We need the Jesus who led these three disciples down from the Mount of Transfiguration. We need the Jesus who made His way to another mountain, Golgotha, the place of the skull. On that mountain, Jesus will express the inner most being of God in sweat and blood, pain and suffering, and, ultimately death and burial. It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus earned our justification. It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus took away our sin and replaced it with His righteousness. It is Jesus working through the cross who offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is Jesus who takes away the burden of our sin and makes it possible for us to stand in the presence of God. It is the glory of Christ on the cross that gives the glory of eternal life to us, glory manifested at His Transfiguration and fully shown to us on the cross where He won for us the forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.